Rossdavidh's Reviews > Ecology of the Coyote in the Yellowstone: Fauna Series No. 4, 1940, Conservation Bulletin No. 4

Ecology of the Coyote in the Yellowstone by Adolph Murie
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really liked it
bookshelves: brown

I had a few minutes to kill in between appointments, and stopped in at a used bookstore. There it was, $10 for a small book written in 1940, by I believe a Park Ranger. It was a view back in time, in many ways.

The first way is that the purpose of the study, was to determine whether or not it was a good idea to allow coyotes to prey on elk, deer, and other animals in the park. The basic idea that a healthy ecosystem is going to need some predators, or else you will have a population explosion in the level just below them in the food chain, was apparently not something the general public understood or appreciated at that point in time. Murie writes on a number of occasions about having to explain to members of the public that the coyotes are often involved in cleaning up carrion, and most of those ungulates that they kill were either diseased, or starving in the winter, often because the sagebrush and other plants they fed on had been overgrazed. Apparently, allowing coyotes to go about their coyote business, in Yellowstone National Park, was a new policy in the late 1930's when this study was done, and he was writing this bulletin to observe the results.

It is also stuffed with many scenes like this:
"As a coyote approaches a spot stealthily, it places each foot on the ground slowly and only gradually letting down its full weight. Sometimes it watches and listens with one forefoot poised in the air. Frequently a mouse is scented or heard while the coyote is trotting. It will then come to a stop, walk stealthily a few steps and poise for the spring. Standing with all four feet held slightly together, nose pointed at the spot, and ears cocked sharply, its body sways back a perceptible amount. Many times before actually leaping the coyote assume a tense position only to relax and wait for the right moment. Generally the coyote springs high in the air and drops on its prey, hitting it with the front feet."

The are also a lot of scenes of interaction between coyotes and elk, ravens, mule deer, magpies, antelope, bighorn, bison, moose, etc. Most of these are too large for coyotes to hunt, but they may prey on immature, sick, or very old members, and at other times are seen quite nearby without any great concern being shown. Murie clearly spent a great deal of time observing the wildlife in Yellowstone, and does an excellent job of bringing it vividly to life in the mind of the reader.

There is also, it must be said, quite a lot of discussion of coyote droppings.

Nowadays, the discussion about coyotes is whether or not it is acceptable for them to be on golf courses or in suburban backyards; in Yellowstone National Park the debate is more about the wolf, and even that is a fait accompli at this point. Really, it's hard to imagine what the point of a national park is if you don't allow an animal such as a coyote to live there unhindered. Apparently, this was not as clear in the 1930's, although it was clear to Murie, and you can sense that he is trying hard to explain to the nation that he works for, why predators are necessary.

It is "Bulletin No. 4" from a series called "Faune of the National Parks of the United States". I don't suppose I will be fortunate enough to come across others in the series, but I will keep an eye out.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
October 15, 2019 – Shelved
October 15, 2019 – Shelved as: brown

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